Metrology: Field of Measurements in Instrumentation Engineering

Metrology (from Ancient Greek metron (measure) and logos (study of)) is the science of measurement. Metrology includes all theoretical and practical aspects of measurement .Metrology is defined by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) as “the science of measurement, embracing both experimental and theoretical determinations at any level of uncertainty in any field of science and technology.” The ontology and international vocabulary of metrology (VIM) is maintained by the International Organisation for Standardisation.

A core concept in metrology is (metrological) traceability, defined as “the property of the result of a measurement or the value of a standard whereby it can be related to stated references, usually national or international standards, through an unbroken chain of comparisons, all having stated uncertainties.” The level of traceability establishes the level of comparability of the measurement: whether the result of a measurement can be compared to the previous one, a measurement result a year ago, or to the result of a measurement performed anywhere else in the world.

Traceability is most often obtained by calibration, establishing the relation between the indication of a measuring instrument and the value of a measurement standard. These standards are usually coordinated by national laboratories: National Institute of Standards and Technology (USA), National Physical Laboratory, UK, etc. Tracebility, accuracy, precision, systematic bias, evaluation of measurement uncertainty are critical parts of a quality management system.


Mistakes can make measurements and counts incorrect. Even if there are no mistakes, nearly all measurements are still inexact. The term ‘error’ is reserved for that inexactness, also called measurement uncertainty. Among the few exact measurements are:

The absence of the quantity being measured, such as a voltmeter with its leads shorted together: the meter should read zero exactly.

Measurement of an accepted constant under qualifying conditions, such as the triple point of pure water: the thermometer should read 273.16 kelvin (0.01 degrees Celsius, 32.018 degrees Fahrenheit) when qualified equipment is used correctly.

Self-checking ratio metric measurements, such as a potentiometer: the ratio in between steps is independently adjusted and verified to be beyond influential inexactness.

All other measurements either have to be checked to be sufficiently correct or left to chance. Metrology is the science that establishes the correctness of specific measurement situations. This is done by anticipating and allowing for both mistakes and error. The precise distinction between measurement error and mistakes is not settled and varies by country. Repeatability and reproducibility studies help quantify the precision: one common method is an ANOVA Gauge R&R study.

Calibration is the process where metrology is applied to measurement equipment and processes to determine conformity with a known standard of measurement, usually traceable to a national standards board.